One of my favorite trees in Iowa City was taken down this week. It had become dangerously hollow, creating a threat to the sidewalk below some of its large branches. The tree had a good life. A redbud, it had lived much longer than the expected lifespan of a flowering tree, but I’m still going to miss its spring flowers, its thick summer shade, and its propensity to reproduce itself with dozens of sprouts throughout the yard.
The City’s forestry department replaces trees when they must come down, but it seems that Iowa City just isn’t as leafy as it used to be. There are blocks in old neighborhoods that have no street trees—or only have the little ornamentals that, while pretty, do not provide the canopy that softens the constructed environment.
Many property owners seem to eschew trees. Trees make mowing difficult and raking necessary. Two years ago, the landlord across the street removed a beautiful backyard apple tree. I had a lovely view of this tree out my office window. It blocked the less inspiring vision of the alley and garages on that property. I do not know the health conditions of the tree, but as I observe the patterns and habits of the landowner—someone who seems to enjoy mowing the grass on his rider mower and scooping snow—and lawn—with the plow attachment on said mower—I assume that the tree was too ‘messy’ with its dropped apples and leaves every fall. So he took it down to save himself the work of caring for it.
I tend to be rather sentimental and protective about trees. They provide beauty, solace, and a connection to nature. Beyond my emotional attachment to them, I also have a practical attachment to trees. They make a city more livable. Trees cool the air and mitigate heat islands in the built environment. They release oxygen and help address the excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere contributing to climate change. Planted strategically, they can reduce energy use by providing cooling shade in the summer and reducing air conditioning needs.
In the column, How Trees Can Make City People Happier (and Vice Versa) in Next City, Sarah Laskow talks about research that examines how people and street trees can help one another. The study examines the factors that help trees survive in the city and how having and caring for trees in a neighborhood helps create a sense of community. Apparently, it takes a village to raise a healthy tree, and the benefits go beyond those of beauty and shade.
So, my call is this: let’s take our tree-hugging community to the next level and get more serious about urban forestry. Let’s plant—and care for—more trees. When we see people beating on our urban trees in the downtown streets, let’s stand up for the trees so we don’t end up with empty tree grates up and down the streets in our central business district.
Plant—and care for—a tree in your yard. Talk to the City and plant a tree in the right-of-way. The City will provide a handy sheet telling you how to care for the tree to give a great start. It’s simple enough even for the novice arborist. We have a great fall leaf removal program—so what’s the big deal about a little fall exercise raking the yard?
A tree in your yard or on your street won’t stop climate change (although it won’t hurt), but it will make your yard or street more attractive—and according to the research—it just may make you happier.